Tuesday, February 25, 2014

TransLink, improv comedy, and the upcoming referendum

This last weekend, I had out-of-town family visiting. We decided to take transit from Langley to see an improv comedy show at Vancouver Theatresports League on Granville Island. These shows usually result in non-stop laughter, and this time was no different.

One of the improv games involved the players incorporating phrases from the audience (that were written down without knowledge of the players) at random points in the scene. The audience also had to suggest a setting for the scene. I didn’t suggested it, but the selected scene was at a SkyTrain platform.

As the scene progressed, the SkyTrain arrived at the platform. As the SkyTrain has an iconic door closing sound, this was the perfect time to replace the sound with the random audience phrase of “I’m Sorry.” One of the players then said, “It sounds like that because it's a Canadian train, but because it’s TransLink, they doesn’t really mean it.” This of course got the audience laughing. It was interesting when one of the players said TransLink as there were lots of boos from the audience. The transit referendum popped into my mind.

The improv scene reinforced two thoughts I have about transit in Metro Vancouver and the upcoming referendum. Transit is a pervasive part of life in Metro Vancouver. Much like New York is associated with its subway system, Vancouver is associated with its automated rail network.

Our system is reliable and safe. Not that improv comedy is the most scientific of indicators, but the improv players could have easily made a joke about the train not showing up or something about crime. In fact, the whole scene played out like SkyTrain was just a normal part of life for a regular person in Metro Vancouver. The major joke was that one of the players didn't know how to use SkyTrain.

It wasn’t all good though. It was interesting to hear the reaction to the joke about TransLink not caring about its customers. It should come as no surprise that many see TransLink as an unaccountable, wasteful organization even if this is not the case.

So what does this have to do with the upcoming referendum?

I believe that the majority of people in our region would approve a new source of funding to expand transit today if it was not for the TransLink brand. I believe people would actually vote no to a new source of funding today, not because they don’t support transit, but because they don’t believe TransLink is an accountable organization. A similar thing happened with the HST referendum in BC. Most people supported the tax, but did not like how the BC Liberals implemented it. This is why it failed at referendum.

With the province’s commitment to reform TransLink governance this year, the agency should become more accountable to the public.

Once the reforms are implemented, the province, local government, and TransLink have to show the public that TransLink is accountable and can be trusted with new revenue to fund transit expansion. As the referendum will now likely occur in the summer of 2015, this should be enough time to change views on TransLink. If this does not occur, I fear that we will not see much needed transit expansion in the region.

Many advocacy group have spent a lot of time focusing on why transit is good for the region. While this information is useful, most people in the region are already convinced that transit is critically important. I think these groups need to focus on the benefits of a regional transportation authority like TransLink which is the model that other regions in the world look to.

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